Inspiring Excellence – Burnaby’s Public Schools

October 2016 – Inspiring Excellence in Burnaby’s Public Schools

October 2015 – Inspiring_Excellence in Burnaby’s Public Schools

January 2015 Inspiring Excellence in Burnaby’s Public Schools  

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Read all about:

Margaret Anteros, who was awarded a national humanitarian award
Salina Kung, a City of Burnaby Youth Environment Award winner
Arnie Morrison, who’s off to Ohio on an NCAA Division II field lacrosse scholarship
Jimshir Sidhu, off to South Dakota State with an NCAA Div Wrestling Scholarship
Benjamin Idemudia, invited to play with Canada’s national deaf basketball team
Lifelong friends from Central off to SFU on major SFU entrance scholarships


Fall 2015

Cisco Kid to App Developer

Adam Thompson was all set to start a Cabinet Making Program in grade 11. In a twist of fate, his program advisor recommended a new Computer Networking Technician Program – a Cisco Academy, at Burnaby South Secondary as an option. An avid “gamer” with a keen interest in computers, Adam was intrigued. He shifted gears, and a month later his career “technically” began.

As the year progressed, Adam’s passion for computers deepened under the guidance of his teacher, Mr Wong. As a final project, students were invited to compete in the Cisco Netriders’ Challenge. In teams of two, using simulation software, they had to set up a virtual hospital computer network in just 1.5 hours. Adam and his partner placed 2nd in North America!

The program opened up multiple work opportunities for Adam. With A+ certification, he found work at London Drugs as a computer specialist. In the summer, he worked in the IT division at Wasserman & Partners.

When the students who had completed the Cisco Academy returned for their final school year, Principal Li offered them a new challenge option. Partnering with a local Apple-employed app developer, they created an Independent Directed Studies course where students learned to design and code iPhone apps.

The students initially watched lectures from Stanford’s iOS programming class, a second year university course. Then Principal Li introduced a competition to design a mobile app of the school’s website. The competition ultimately narrowed to just two students. While both projects had merit, Adam was the victor.

Armed with his prize, a new iPad 2, Adam continued learning and tinkering with iPhone and iPad apps. He began writing an iOS game, and by year’s end had a working game prototype. Half a year later, while studying Computer Science at SFU, he released the game Terror Rising on iTunes. Charged with an entrepreneurial spirit, he pursued part-time app work, earning enough to pay for University plus a backpacking trip around Europe.

In the summer of 2014, he competed for a “sweet” senior developer position at with flexible hours, an ocean view, and great pay. Job applicants were asked to estimate how long it would take to build a fictional app. Adam’s low estimate, measured in hours, not days, astounded them – especially when he actually delivered! He was hired on the spot.

“The jumpstart I received in high school has been critical to the success I enjoy today. I encourage current students to seek these opportunities and pursue their passions.”

Fast forward a year, Adam now attends Zhejiang University in China. He speaks Mandarin, and has already begun to envision the company he’ll start up in the near future.

All the World’s Her Stage

Did Carlena discover dance or did it discover her? That is the question. Carlena Britch had a creative streak from a very young age. At Cameron Elementary, she thrived on anything ‘artsy’ – art classes, choir, drama and especially dance. Her dance journey began in grade 4, when she was introduced to hip hop in gym class. She was    so enthralled she created an after-school program.

By the time she reached Burnaby Mountain Secondary, there was no stopping Carlena, and dance teachers Ms Stansberry and Ms Marello opened up her world to what was possible. Before school, during lunch, breaks, and after school, you’d find her in the studio. While she continued to teach dance to elementary students, she also headed up the school’s award-winning Dance Team. The school was so proud of their Dance Team, they raised enough funds to send them to a pivotal dance competition.

Carlena graduated with Honours in 2008 and was awarded the Michael J Fox Scholarship for Performing Arts. She also received a cash scholarship (Deeley Harley-Davidson) which paid for a 3 month training workshop in Los Angeles, her “dream city.”

Today, Carlena is living her dream in LA. She was the 7th top female dancer on So You Think You Can Dance Canada, and has shared the stage with numerous pop stars of today’s generation, including Justin Bieber. She’s also appeared in many TV shows and movies, a career she is pursuing further.

Carlena’s pathway to fame wasn’t all easy. Dancing took her focus away from a troubled childhood in foster care and was an outlet to positively channel her energy. It also surrounded her with the support of people at school and in the community who believed in her and shared her dream.

“Dance was the key guidance in my life. It taught me focus, determination, perseverance and strength. I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am if I hadn’t found it.”

Among a long list of future dreams that include becoming an author, director and winning an Oscar, she remembers her roots, “I want to inspire young girls who’ve experienced abuse and neglect to realize that they can do anything they want – it all starts by believing in yourself.”

A Fitting Challenge

Isabela Moise began her educational journey at école Sperling  Elementary in the French Immersion Program. When University Highlands Elementary opened in 2010, she transferred there to be in the same school as her younger brother Nicki. She enjoyed both schools, but in grade 6 the fit just wasn’t quite right.

Isabela was “a self-professed nerd and used a lot of big words.”
Her prose had been selected for publication in the District’s 2014 WORDS Anthology and she was a year ahead in Math.

It was Isabela’s teacher, Mr Heard, who recommended the Multi-Age Cluster Class at Capitol Hill Elementary as a program option. It would provide her with a deeper level of knowledge and an environment better suited to her advanced learning needs. The school also suggested that her brother submit an application for the grade 4/5 MACC class. And so they became the first set of MACC siblings.

Although it meant changing schools, Isabela was excited about this learning opportunity. From day one, she felt right at home in her grade 6/7 class, her classmates were that familiar to her. “The big words were suddenly normal,” and she loved the deep discussions about social issues, complete with debates which created friendly competition amongst her peers. Isabela had an exceptional year of learning, and took on leadership roles in sports, worked in the library and raised funds for multiple causes. Her confidence soared.

“There’s an energy that happens when you put like-minded kids in the same room.
They feed off of each other, their thoughts, comments and actions – that’s where the real learning begins.”

~ Ms. Papapanagiotou, Isabela’s MACC teacher

When she completed grade 7, the District had just launched a secondary option for advanced learners. Isabela now attends the Mini-School for Highly Able Learners at Alpha Secondary along with many of her MACC classmates. They’ve already selected a name for their “Mini” by hosting a debate where Isabela defended the name BETA: Bringing Exceptional Thoughts Alive. Initially the least favoured option, they were all amazed to see it rise in popularity during the debating process. It made the name that much more fitting.

The BETA students are thriving and looking forward to the year ahead. And the District’s looking forward to learning where the future will take them.

Ace of Auto Collision Repair

Jason Sherle didn’t have to look far when considering his career options. After his older brother Matthew graduated from the
ACE-IT Auto Service Technician Program, the boys spent hours together in the family garage working on vehicles, including a truck Jason bought when he was just 15. They spoke the same language and Jason grew to know that someday he’d be working with cars for a living.

Jason completed his academic courses in grade 11, to clear the path to take the ACE-IT Auto Collision Repair Technician Program the following year. It still made for an intense schedule. He took the ACE-IT program at Vancouver Community College four days a week. Every Friday, he returned to his high school for a Peer Mentoring course where he worked with Tech Ed students, and he took English 12 online. As Jason was also an integral part of the senior boys’ soccer team, his teammates and coach appreciated that he somehow managed to fit that in too.

“I was ready to make the commitment and step out into the real world a year earlier than my friends. The reward wouldn’t be just a career, but a career I loved.”  

The juggling and sacrifices were well worth it. Jason shone in his chosen profession. He was one of only two students selected to compete at Skills BC, which showcases the top secondary and post-secondary students in a variety of vocations. Jason won gold in Auto Collison Repair and qualified for the National Skills Competition in Saskatoon. There, he reached the podium once again and received a bronze medal. He was also the recipient of VCC’s Faculty Award and is on track to receive a Secondary School Apprenticeship Award.

Jason became an apprentice in demand. In June, he began working on high-end vehicles like Lexus and BMW at Richmond Auto Body. He works with another former Burnaby Schools grad, Shawn Atherton, also a Skills BC gold winner.

Jason is dedicated and passionate about his career. He’s almost completed the required working hours toward his Level 1 certificate and will begin his Level 2 training at VCC in February. He’s looking forward to the day when he’ll be a fully licensed journeyman – a goal he’s clearly steering toward at top speed.

Future of Green

Jacqueline Shen has always been a driving force. As a child, her grandparents instilled in her a philosophy to work hard for what she wanted. She was a keen student, took Advanced Placement courses and participated in math competitions. In her final year of high school, she won a Municipal Environmental Award and a National Earth Day Hometown Hero Award for empowering youth to work toward a sustainable future.

It was the first Burnaby Youth Sustainability Network (BYSN) meeting in 2010 that inspired her. Secondary students from across the District came together to encourage students to refill their own water bottles in an effort to keep plastic bottles out of the landfill. She was inspired by the energy of the group, their provocative arguments, and their dedication. After that, she was unstoppable – on a mission to make Burnaby Schools, and schools throughout Metro Vancouver more sustainable.

When she took over the reins as BYSN chair in 2012, it went from grassroots to big business. Today, there are water bottle refill stations in all secondary schools and some elementary schools too. They’ve also created Generation Green (an elementary mentorship program), organized environmental clean ups, installed school gardens, implemented food scraps recycling, and won several City of Burnaby environmental awards. BYSN also organizes a bi-annual “Do it Green” Sustainability Conference where students, staff and the community get together to think outside the box for greener solutions.

“Energy and creativity spouts from everyone at the “Do It Green” conferences. I am confident that Burnaby students have the power to change the world.”

Jacqueline believes that all problems have solutions, it’s just a matter of finding them. She’s hosted numerous workshops and presentations including a 2013 TedX talk, “Throwing Away the Concept of Garbage,” at the Power In Me Conference. (TEDxKids@BC connects remarkable young people to each other, to share bold ideas and spark discussion and action.)

Today Jacqueline is a second year scholarship student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology majoring in biological engineering. Through her studies and activism with Fossil Free MIT, she is learning first-hand about the issues affecting our environment so that she can continue to be part of the solution. Under Jacqueline’s watch – with her contagious enthusiasm to spearhead youth into action – the world is in good hands.


Winter 2015

Burnaby’s Public Schools ~ The Right Choice


The Mohammed family is all about informed decisions, particularly when it comes to the education of their children. They are experienced veterans now, having gone from a public school to the independent system and back again – a choice they now know was the best one for their daughter Lila (grade 12) and son Solly (grade 8) who are both thriving at Burnaby Mountain Secondary.

Their decision to try independent schools seemed right for them at the time, the schools were faith-based and mirrored their value system. For their elementary aged son, it worked. But to their surprise, for their daughter who was in secondary school, the foundation for learning didn’t meet their expectations. They recognize that foundations in certain subjects – especially in grades 11 and 12 – is imperative to the transition from secondary to post-secondary. The family also values the arts, and artistic opportunities were limited.

As their son finished elementary school, the Mohammed family reviewed their options. They decided that the best choice for their children was to return to a public school for both the artistic and academic opportunities it offered. Just four months in, they know it was the right choice.

For their children, the first day at their new high school was a big one. They immediately felt accepted and safe in a school that embraces its diversity, thus creating an inclusive atmosphere. Parents Emily and Reza were delighted to discover that the public school promoted excellent values and the social climate amongst peer groups was healthy.

Lila jumped right into theatre, thrilled that the production was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Academically, her marks reflect the expertise of the teachers and administrative team – she’s already on the Honour Roll, with Distinction. And as awkward as the transition to grade 8 can be, Solly is also thriving. Many classmates from his independent school are at Mountain, so he already had a friend base. He’s particularly excited about the opportunity to expand his proficiency playing the trumpet under the instruction of the school’s specialized musical directors. Next year he looks forward to auditioning for the jazz band.

“Public schools have so much to offer – diversity, academic excellence, fine arts and a solid learning foundation. We believe in the public education system, and in everyone working together to make it stronger. Ultimately it benefits us all.”

From English Language Learner to Ivy League

Agnes_web-200x200Agnes Mei was a new immigrant to Canada when she started grade 10 at Burnaby South Secondary. Assessed as an ELL level one learner, she barely understood a word of English. She envied those students who were able to speak in front of the class, and vowed one day to be just like them.

Today, Agnes is a second year Business student at the University of Pennsylvania, on full scholarship. She credits the entire learning experience at Burnaby South for her success, particularly the teachers, administrators and staff who provided her with many opportunities and encouraged each student to maximize their potential. When she chose to take two additional AP courses on top of her regular course load, the teachers were 100% behind her, offering her any extra support she needed to succeed.

“The learning environment was one where every curiosity was satisfied, so that every ambitious dream could come true.”

Agnes acknowledges that her friends and classmates also played a key role and were her constant source of energy. When she founded the International Culture Club, they promoted, organized and planned events to ensure that it thrived. Their support made her even more determined to achieve her goal of encouraging interaction between students of all cultures.

In the summer prior to Grade 12, Agnes was accepted to Stanford University’s summer quarter to study with its undergraduates and conduct an independent research project with a Stanford professor. This positive university experience confirmed that the learning skills she had acquired at Burnaby South were transferable and gave her the confidence to aim high in her academic pursuits.

Agnes was the school’s 2012-13 Governor General Academic Medal recipient. She believes she’s where she is today because of the people and the engaging learning environment at South. In turn, the school staff and her friends credit Agnes for enriching their lives with her positive attitude and determination.

An Academic Goal (ie)

Nico_web-200x200Nico Lopes is not your typical teenage boy – he’s balancing school and hockey – the latter that has him poised to go places “in the net.” His hockey career began at age 3, playing minor hockey at Hollyburn. His educational journey began at age 5 at a French Immersion school in West Vancouver. It was grade 8 when the juggling act began. With hockey practices after school each day and “away games” on school nights, it was difficult to keep up with his studies.

It was important to Nico and his parents that he be successful in both school and hockey. When Burnaby Central Secondary partnered with the Burnaby Winter Club to offer a hockey academy, his family knew that this was an opportunity to make it happen. Nico entered the program in 2013.

“The Hockey Program at Burnaby Central was a game changer for me. I can focus on school and hockey without the conflicts of challenging practice and game times.” 

Every other day at 7 am he’s got dryland training, a credited course. He trains with his teammates, a Central teacher and a BWC coach. Then he’s off to classes and on the ice at 2:15 pm. Nico gets home at a “normal” hour to relax a bit before studying. Hockey games are on the weekend only and there is a chance to build comradery as the team travels together.

Being in a semestered school offers more flexibility in Nico’s schedule and allows him to accelerate his courses. This year he’ll finish Pre-Calculus 11 and 12. He also appreciates the exceptionally supportive teachers, administrators and his coaches.

Nicos’s future is mapped out – Junior A hockey, an NCAA scholarship and then a chance to play pro-hockey. He’s on the “powerplay” to make it happen.

Playing Carnegie Hall

Elisa_web-200x200Alpha Secondary grade 12 student, Elisa Colasurdo, will be representing her high school internationally – playing oboe and English horn at Carnegie Hall, as part of the 2015 High School Honors Orchestra Performance Series. She was selected for this prestigious opportunity from a submitted audition. As amazing an individual accomplishment as this is, Elisa’s family is quick to credit the support, guidance and influence of many of the School District’s finest music teachers who have played significant roles throughout her music career.

Elisa’s musical career began at Confederation Park Elementary. It was there that she discovered the oboe. She became particularly inspired in grade 6 when the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s (VSO) Connects Program visited the school.

Her secondary school music teachers were also enthused about supporting Elisa’s talent and have also encouraged her to participate in auditions outside of school. She’s a member of the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra and has played with the BCMEA Honours Wind Ensemble for two seasons. Elisa started playing the English horn just three years ago, working with a private teacher.

Elisa is interested in a career in medicine or pharmacy, however, this opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall has opened her eyes to further musical pursuits. Whatever is in her future – it’s a bright one.

The District is proud of the specialized music teachers who set the stage for the District’s award-winning choirs and bands, and for students to go on to pursue individual musical achievements.

Harvard Bound

Scott&Grace_web-200x200Scott Xiao’s family moved from North Vancouver to Burnaby so that Scott and his sister Grace* could attend Burnaby North Secondary. They were particularly impressed by the school’s extensive Advanced Placement Program. They also felt that the large student population would create an environment of varied talents and interests, and that this rich diversity would support success for their children today – and in their post-secondary careers.

Scott makes a point of recognizing how encouraging his teachers are. He’s a National AP Scholar, and has taken 13 AP courses. He’s also participated in multiple competitions and Olympiad programs, and knows that the direct support from his teachers has buoyed his success.

He represented Canada at the 2014 International Chemistry Olympiad held in Hanoi Vietnam where his team claimed a bronze medal – and won the Canadian Chemistry Contest. Nationally his school team came first in the 2013 Waterloo Cayley Mathematics Contest, and as an individual he came fifth in the University of Toronto’s 2014 National Biology Competition.

A full page summary of Scott’s impressive academic, leadership, music and athletic accomplishments conveys how genuine and well-rounded he is. The founder of We Youth Help – a volunteer organization that performs at seniors homes and hospitals, he is also a member of the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra. He was recently featured on CBC for his creation of a Mendelssohn video where he simultaneously plays the violin, piano and cello! In his spare time he is a ski instructor, a lifeguard and is a two-time water polo provincial champion.

As a result of the opportunities that Burnaby North has provided for their children, the Xiao’s are staunch supporters of the public education system and applaud its merits. The many accomplishments of Scott and Grace are proof that Burnaby’s public schools support and inspire excellence in learning.

*Grace Xiao graduated in 2013 and was the Governor General Academic medal recipient. She’s now a sophomore at Harvard, and looks forward to her younger brother Scott joining her at the ivy league university this coming fall.

Chef Set for World Travels

Alexandra_web-200x200Alexandra Hourston is a proud member of the Ojibwa and Cree Nations. She received her Dogwood in June of 2014, and graduated from the ACE-IT Professional Cooks Training Program. She’s now completing her apprenticeship at the award-winning Loden Boutique Hotel in downtown Vancouver. She’s also eligible for the Secondary School Apprenticeship Scholarship.

Always a self-confessed picky eater, Alexandra explains that it wasn’t until she attended a few traditional family gatherings that her idea of food changed. In fact, she was so inspired, that in the summer of grade 10 she took a First Nations cuisine course at VCC. It was taught by native chef Andrew George and his encouragement greatly influenced her decision for the future.

The Professional Cooks Training Program put Alexandra a step ahead in achieving her career goals. 

Her decision to enter this program was also influenced by the fact that she wanted to travel and see the world. She wisely concluded that cooking is a universal skill, and a trade that would always be in demand in any country of the world. With a background in cooking, she would have the freedom to travel.

One of the highlights of the ACE-IT Professional Cooks Training Program is when its students fly to Maui for a two-week work experience at the Fairmont Kea-Lani. It was certainly a great beginning to Alexandra’s world travels. Armed with a little French, Italian and Japanese, she’ll soon be taking her skills on the road. Alexandra plans to further explore her own culture through food and to then share her culture with the world through the culinary arts and the universal language of food.